Michael Bisping has every right to be bitter.
About being defeated, as it now transpires, in three UFC title eliminators by drug cheats; or an injury layoff coinciding with an upward curve in the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in Europe.
You wouldn’t begrudge him, too, for looking at his next challenge with a tinge of resentment, as he faces the man he always dreamed of ripping the UFC middleweight belt from, without gold on the line. Yet, when you bring these topics to his attention, there is no acerbity, just determination.
On February 27, at London’s 02 Arena, ‘The Count’ takes on arguably the greatest fighter to have ever prowled the Octagon in Brazil’s Anderson Silva.
It’s a bout that should the United Kingdom’s MMA posterboy win, could finally see him contest for the 185lbs crown after an eight-year campaign to do so. He’s been close before, though. The ‘TRT Generation’, or fighters who have served bans relating to performance-enhancing drugs, hallmark the defeats he suffered in the 11th hour of his title pursuits.
Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort all brought efforts to an end. But despite the setbacks, Bisping has remarkably never left the title conversation since joining the division back in 2008.
“I’m proud of that,” Bisping tells Sport360 when asked about making several comebacks.
“People may get to that No1 contenders spot once in their life and then that’s them done. I’m now about to fight for the 33rd time in the UFC and I’ve always been in the picture.
“Of course, everytime I’ve fought for that top spot it’s been against guys who have been caught cheating. But whatever, it’s done now and I lost those fights. It would be disappointing to look back on if I don’t get the belt but at the same time you can’t be bitter about it.
“The fights happened and you’ve just got to get on with it. That’s why I’m training so hard now to get another opportunity at a title shot.
“Beat Anderson and I will hopefully be next in line. I don’t dwell on the past I just try and make opportunities for the future.”
Indeed, Bisping has to had to grind to return to the elite end of the division. At the backend of 2014, current champion Luke Rockhold provided a significant stumbling block with a second-round submission victory over the Brit.
But fast-forward just over 12 months and the 36-year-old finds himself on a two-fight win streak. Making it three, though, will be the toughest of his career.
Silva, who is returning to the Octagon after a 12-month PED suspension, holds the longest title streak in UFC history.
Chris Weidman brought that 2,457 day run to a shuddering halt three years ago and since then the Brazilian icon has fought just twice: breaking his leg in the rematch with Weidman before returning to beat Nick Diaz in January 2015.
‘The Spider’ failed multiple drug tests after that fight citing “sexual performance” medication for tainting his test results. Bisping sees that differently and is confidence of defeating the 40-year-old.
“I think he was on steroids his whole career,” the Manchester fighter adds. “The Nick Diaz fight was the first time he fought when testing was introduced and wouldn’t you know it, he tested positive.
“But to me I thought he was on it his whole career and you look at that fight he didn’t look great. I’ve always thought I could beat Anderson and I certainly think it now. The dream was to always beat him to be world champion.
“Yes, you could say it’s bittersweet he no longer holds the belt but I’ve always wanted this fight and I’ve always thought I could beat him. He’s great at certain things but he’s not as great as what people think.
“Yeah, okay, he’s accurate and he’s very inventive but he’s not the best wrestler, he’s not the best on the ground, he’s not that fast and he’s not the best boxer. He’s got some good kicks, knees and elbows but I’m long enough in the tooth to avoid the danger.
“I don’t think he’s ever fought anyone like me with my style, my movement, my footwork, my speed and my will to win. That’s why I think I will get a second round TKO.”
Bisping’s confident declaration is given extra credence when you examine his record on home soil. The UFC returns to London after a two-year absence, however, Bisping returned to his UK stomping ground last July when he picked up a crucial split decision win over the resurgent Thales Leites in Glasgow.
In doing so, he extended an unbeaten streak on home soil to 17-0 in professional outings.
And it’s a statistic all the more remarkable when you consider the almost immeasurable pressure that has rested heavily on his shoulders. The UK has a rich history in producing top level combat sports athletes, with boxing and kickboxing prominent. But the successes there did not initially translate to MMA.
That was until the searing rise of Bisping. He won Season Three of the Ultimate Fighter where his trash talking, loud mouthed demeanour and fast paced, all action fighting style would see him garner both fan support from the UK and Europe, and fan hatred throughout the US.
He built his stardom with the mic in his hand and legitimate, world-class fighting ability, which encouraged the UFC to use Bisping to break into the UK market.
So how has he dealt with being the face of British MMA as he prepares to return to London?
“I hear people say that but I never thought that about myself,” Bisping says.
“I just try to do my thing, trying to represent my country to my fullest and provide for my beautiful wife and three children. I was aware of it and it’s very nice that people use those terms but I never felt any pressure. To be honest things like that make me perform better. Pressure brings out the best in me.”
Of course, the pressure will be at it’s most intense next Saturday and given Bisping turns 37 the day after it will only add to that. His response?
“I want a gold belt to be sat on my f****** mantelpiece. Until I get one I will not rest.”
Don’t count Bisping out just yet, because everytime he is down and out he comes back stronger. And beating Silva will finally lead him down a path to gold.
Anderson Silva is back and ‘The Spider’ is ready and primed to crawl his way back to the top of the middleweight division.
On February 27, arguably the greatest fighter to have graced the UFC returns to the Octagon after a year on the shelf. The Brazilian takes on perennial title contender Michael Bisping in London for the first time since failing a drug test. And he wants his belt back.
It was a personal nadir for Silva after he tested positive in several tests following his victory over Nick Diaz at UFC 183. It has forever tarnished his legacy. Now, at 40 years old and with the 185lbs division brimming with talent and intrigue can he make a run at the division he once dominated? We take a look at the state of the middleweight picture.
Luke Rockhold – At UFC 194 the former Strikeforce middleweight champ added the UFC strap to his collection. With his marketable good looks and just downright frightening skills in the Octagon, Rockhold has all the tools to dominate the 185lbs division for years to come.
He has just one defeat to his name in the UFC against Vitor Belfort but has proven himself to be one of the most complete fighters in the promotion. In his first title defence, Rockhold will face the man he stripped the belt from, Chris Weidman at UFC 199 and other threats are looming, too.
Chris Weidman – The former champ shocked the world – twice. Weidman did the unthinkable in ending Silva’s almost insurmountable win-streak and followed up with his 2014 Fight of the Year candidate with Lyoto Machida and demolition of Belfort. Of course, then he met Rockhold but he will have his chance of retribution this summer.
Anderson Silva – You can never count him out. Yes, he’s nearing 41 and yes he struggled in his last victory over Nick Diaz but a win over Bisping and a bit of luck could throw ‘The Spider’ right back into the mix. He wants his belt and Rockhold welcomes that challenge.
Jacare Souza – A submission specialist, Jacare sits at No. 2 in the rankings after Yoel Romero’s removal following a failed a drugs test. He was beaten by Romero at UFC 194, though many scored the fight in his favour, but remains in the picture with the Cuban’s future cloudy.
Michael Bisping – At 36 this is surely his last run at UFC gold. He’s lost three title eliminators and looked out of contention completely after being submitted by Rockhold. However, beat the former king this month and not only will he cement his spot as a top contender once more but his legacy, too.
Vitor Belfort – Rockhold wants Belfort on a platter to avenge his loss and that alone makes the Brazilian an enticing prospect. Many thought his days as a contender were done after the battering handed down by Weidman. However, ‘The Phenom’ has a de facto title eliminator scheduled against Jacare for May.
Robert Whittaker – At 25 he, unlike most of the contenders, has time on his side. His most notable win came against Uriah Hall as a short-notice replacement and he is 3-0 since moving up to 185lbs. Title contention beckons.
Lyoto Machida – A long shot, despite being ranked No4, he’s lost three of his last four fights and there is no rush to see him take on the elite again soon.
UFC fans will be forced to wait a little longer to see former WWE star CM Punk in the Octagon.
The welterweight fighter is yet to compete in the UFC since signing for the promotion in 2014 after suffering injury setbacks.
Punk, real name Phil Brooks, revealed to MMAFighting.com that he is set for another spell on the sidelines after he underwent back surgery on a herniated disc in Chicago on Wednesday. “My back has always bugged me,” Punk told the website. “Figured it was just wrestling s**t. Turns out it was. “It got bad enough to the point where I couldn’t do anything the week before I went to train with the New Jersey Devils last month. “One day I could manage, the next day I couldn’t. I’ve been in agony for almost a month. Chiropractor, acupuncture, massage, cryotherapy … nothing worked.” Punk’s highly-anticipated debut last summer was delayed by a shoulder injury. He was then due to take on Mickey Gall this summer after the 24-year-old defeated Mike Jackson in the first round of his UFC debut last weekend to earn the right to welcome Punk to the UFC. However, those plans will now change as the former WWE champion goes in for surgery with his recovery time expected to be four-to-six weeks. He noted in the interview that he still intends to fight at least once in 2016. “This is just a bump in the road,” he added. “I’m positive about this.”
Punk, real name Phil Brooks, revealed to MMAFighting.com that he is set for another spell on the sidelines after he underwent back surgery on a herniated disc in Chicago on Wednesday.
“My back has always bugged me,” Punk told the website. “Figured it was just wrestling s**t. Turns out it was.
“It got bad enough to the point where I couldn’t do anything the week before I went to train with the New Jersey Devils last month.
“One day I could manage, the next day I couldn’t. I’ve been in agony for almost a month. Chiropractor, acupuncture, massage, cryotherapy … nothing worked.”
Punk’s highly-anticipated debut last summer was delayed by a shoulder injury.
He was then due to take on Mickey Gall this summer after the 24-year-old defeated Mike Jackson in the first round of his UFC debut last weekend to earn the right to welcome Punk to the UFC.
However, those plans will now change as the former WWE champion goes in for surgery with his recovery time expected to be four-to-six weeks.
He noted in the interview that he still intends to fight at least once in 2016.
“This is just a bump in the road,” he added. “I’m positive about this.”